Friday, January 15, 2010

In the Loop and My Karaoke Debut

Last Saturday night, I went to see In the Loop with my friends N. and P. The movie is a farce about the lead-up to a war like the one in Iraq, though the conflict goes unnamed. It is blisteringly funny. Based on a BBC series called The Thick of It (which, sadly, doesn’t appear to be available on DVD), its British and American cast is uniformly excellent. But the movie gets its fiercest kick from Peter Capaldi as Malcolm Tucker, a bulldog for the Prime Minister who aims to keep the possible path to war unimpeded. Capaldi is a thin man, but as Tucker he looks like he’s always on the doorstep of a massive coronary event. (“Are you sure you’re working as hard as me, because I’m sweating spinal fluid here.”) He also swears in a way that would make a fleet of drunk sailors sound like Elmo. The character is almost impossible to quote on a family-friendly blog—it might be tough even on a family-unfriendly blog. I would recommend you watch this montage of his more profane moments, but you should see the movie first. An appropriate teaser with less spoilers might be this report from the movie’s premiere.

After the credits rolled, N., P., and I looked for a spot to get some whiskey and maybe some mozzarella sticks. I’m classy like that. Midtown Manhattan is an office-building wasteland, but we managed to find a bar that was mostly empty, quiet, and unfashionable. (“This is like drinking in Cleveland,” P. said.) Soon after we ordered our assorted fried snacks (speaking of massive coronary events), the quiet was broken in a big way.

It was karaoke night.

The good-natured-but-maybe-sick-of-running-a-karaoke-night guy in charge started signing up volunteers. I let it slip to my friends that, though I had been around karaoke several times, of course, I had never myself participated. For the next hour or so, I was pressured by them to perform. I made efforts to resist said pressure and retain my dignity. Others in the bar had obviously left their dignity at home with a sitter. One thoroughly average-looking guy shot from Normal to Possible Serial Killer with a frighteningly intense rendition of “Back Door Man” by The Doors, and later got up to sing—in an equally frightening high-pitched squeal—“Girls Just Want to Have Fun.” I expect his vocal cords to fully recover sometime in 2047.

There were several other atrocities perpetrated against pitch, including a version of Kings of Leon’s “Sex on Fire” by a guy who will hit the note in that chorus when I ascend to the top of the Chrysler Building strapped to the back of a hummingbird.

Most astonishing was “Drops of Jupiter” by Train. The guy who sang it was one of two participants who could actually sing. But I had always assumed the song was a bland but essentially harmless radio hit. I’d even tapped my feet to it a few times. (You’d know it if you heard it.) Now I know it for what it is: maybe the worst rock lyric ever written. And I say that as someone who also watched several Red Hot Chili Peppers lyrics of recent vintage pollute the screen that night. But “Drops of Jupiter”: Wow. Its central hook (“did you miss me while you were looking for yourself out there?”) is actually not a bad one around which to build a pop song. But the song doesn’t build around it so much as it suffocates it with a pillow. A pillow that's been marinated in a cesspool. It starts with plenty of junk, like this:
Since the return from her stay on the moon
She listens like spring and she talks like June
To quote Ron Burgundy: “That doesn’t make sense.”

But you soon wish they would have stuck to the purely nonsensical:
Now that she's back from that soul vacation
Tracing her way through the constellation, hey, hey
She checks out Mozart while she does tae-bo
Reminds me that there's room to grow, hey, hey
It gets worse. No, really:
Can you imagine no love, pride, deep-fried chicken
Your best friend always sticking up for you even when I know you're wrong
Can you imagine no first dance, freeze dried romance five-hour phone conversation
The best soy latte that you ever had . . . and me
Uhhh. . . .

So, after suffering (but in a fun way) for a long time, I figured, why not me? P. got up first and did a solo rendition of “Fairytale of New York” by The Pogues, which, if you know it, is an incredibly brave karaoke choice. She nailed it. Even did a spirited dance. A few songs later, I made my karaoke debut with her on a duet: “Islands in the Stream.” When I got done with the opening verse, I turned to find that the lovely P.’s microphone had been hijacked by a dude with a shaved head who must have weighed 300 pounds and had earlier graced us with Kid Rock’s “Bawitdaba,” which consisted of him attempting to scream the song’s opening lines of gibberish and then watching helplessly, voicelessly as the rest of the song’s rapid-fire lyrics crossed the screen. I was now turning to see this man serenading me: “Everything is nothing if you got no one.”

I’m not a singer on my best day, but at this point of the night my voice was hoarse from singing along with others from my table—and from shouting to N. and P. over the din. Perhaps I’ll give it another crack sometime. Maybe I can track down my new duet partner and we can try to tame “Bawitdaba.” Together.


Anonymous pf said...

JW, it is really irresponsible of you not to mention how much alcohol was involved in our "decision" to sing. Or did you take that as implicit in any story about karaoke?

I also have to say that the only thing I "nailed" that night was my sobriety (well, you know what I'm trying to say). I was twice as hoarse (and twice as drunk) as you were.

Anyway, I hope I'm there when you pick up the mic again.

8:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

pw said...
Oh my boy, I didn't realize this birthday had
affected you that badly. Hang in, you've
improved and matured with age in many fine
ways. Singing doesn't have to be one of them!
Love ya!

1:03 PM  
Blogger JMW said...

Well, yes, I had been drinking. But honestly, not nearly as much as I once thought I would have to in order to do karaoke. I think my shyness was worn down more effectively by watching so many others humiliate themselves.

12:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Never mind that, how about them Jets.

8:35 PM  

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